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Catherine (cat) Wentworth is the Project Manager of Creative Latitude, as well as one of the founding members.

Along with 20 other dedicated designers, Cat helped to create an exciting new campaign, NO!SPEC.

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In Their Own Words: Why These Designers are Against Speculative Design Competitions
Sometimes the best way to present a subject is to let those involved speak for themselves. Below you will find an actual forum exchange between members after a potential client posted a logo and web site design competition. Please don’t miss the valuable links placed at the end of the discussion.

The Creative Latitude Logo Design Competition Protest Form can be downloaded here.

From: XXXX
To: ALL


We are a leader in web design and marketing for the touristic industry. We are looking for new talented graphic designers! Instead of asking for your cv/resume we decided to post a competition. Entries can be screen shots or jpg or gif with demo on it if you want to protect your work.

You can choose to do all or any one of the following projects:

Two logos and a design concept for a Web Portal.
All work must be original, please no copywrite infringement!

1st prize: Prize is $800
$300 cash plus a guaranteed minimum of $500 worth of graphic design work within the next 6 months

If you submit all three projects and we choose all three, you win 1st Prize.

2nd prize: Prize is $400
$200 cash plus a guaranteed minimum of $200 worth of graphic design work within the next 6 months

If we choose two of your submissions, you win 2nd Prize.

3rd prize: Prize is $200
$100 cash plus a guaranteed minimum of $100 worth of graphic design work within the next 6 months

If we choose one of your submissions, you win 3rd Prize.

Once chosen as a winner, we will pay you the immediate cash prize amount either through a credit card payment link that you provide, paypal, or an international bank transfer.

You are responsible to provide us with the original layered file, either psd, illustrator, fla or whatever program you used to create the image work.

From: the cat
To: ALL


I'm just gonna sit here and wait for Habib

From: Helen
To: the cat


lol..Yes, I'm sure he'll have a few things to say :)

From: the cat
To: Helen


LOL!! You betcha. I'm just gonna sit this out and watch the fireworks.

<<1st prize: Prize is $800
$300 cash plus a guaranteed minimum of $500 worth of graphic design work within the next 6 months>>

$300 and a promise that you can WORK FOR THE REST OF YOUR PRIZE??!!

For three designs!?

Sitting back again, waiting, waiting.

From: TIPPER17
To: the cat


Anyone game to write the original poster and give him our 2 cents of what we think of his contest?

From: the cat
To: TIPPER17


What, and ruin it all?

Really, I'd rather wait for the voice of reason.
Much better Habib controls the situation. He is so very good!

:-)

From: Celia
To: ALL


I'm also waiting for the ICHM (Inter-continental Habib Missile.

From: JANETLITTL1
To: the cat


They get a web site design and two logos (chosen from a wide variety of submissions) for $1400.

Funny how such a "leader in web design and marketing" declines to even identify themselves in such a prestigious competition.

The sad thing is, they will get entries.

From: the cat
To: JANETLITTL1


The $1400 is an illusion.

If you look closer you will find each 'prize' only receives a small percentage of the offered money, the rest is 'guaranteed' as the amount of work they will send the winners way 'within the next 6 months'.

So what they are saying is the winners will work for the balance of the 'prize money'.

The most they will be paying is $600 for the web site design and two logos.

I've got steam coming out of my nostrils at the thought.

Waiting for Habib . . . .

From: JANETLITTL
To: the cat


Yikes, good point -- I read it quickly and didn't even catch that... much less the payment method!!

From: XXXX
To: the cat


Hi!
I didn't want to post our company name because I want to avoid being added to spam and other unwanted lists. If you send me an email, I will be happy to give you our complete history :-)

I also want to thank you for pointing out the way I posted the prize, I have amended this as well. I didn't mean to be misleading, so I changed it to the cash prizes only. As for payment, I couldn't think of any other way to convey my assurance of payment. Since we are outside of the US it is difficult to arrange payment. I only wanted to say that even if the winner does not have Paypal or their own merchant account, we will front the cost to transfer the money to you!

I am not looking to scam anyone, I am looking for "new" & "upcoming" designers, who maybe are working from home or do not have the overheads of a larger design company and so can charge a bit less. It is very costly to take risks on projects, when you have your own overheads to consider. Sometimes you get stuck making a deposit on a project and then finding that the designer does not provide the quality that you were expecting, so this contest was the best way we could think of to replace the task of looking at thousands of portfolio's and resumes :-)

- by the way, who the heck is Habib?!?! :-)

From: FAITHMARTIN
To: XXXX


Dear XXXX:
Being of unsound mind, I will do a little enlightening.
I realize you have probably stumbled in here, rather unknowingly, otherwise you wouldn't have posted your message.

A large majority of participants in this forum are established professionals that make their sole living as graphic designers. Or are people that are learning from the established professionals about appropriate business practices.

This would be considered "spec" work. Highly frowned upon by the graphic design community in general, with possibly the exception of high-end advertising agencies that can afford putting time and money into possibly very lucrative ventures. (You know the $100,000 and up range!)

<by the way, who the heck is Habib?!?! :-)>

Habib is one of the above mentioned professional Independent Contractors who is incredibly good and does very high-end work. He is also one of our most vocal proponents of not doing speculative work.

It may have been much better to have simply stated that you were looking for someone to re-do your web site (and provided a link to that site so the person could see what they were up against) and create a logo (not in that order), that you didn't have a lot of money to spend (state the range), and if anybody were interested, to send a link to their online portfolios.

The majority of people here do have some type of on-line portfolio, so yes you would have had to wade through them, but a portfolio is really the best way to view a designers style. That's why they have them and professionals and/or students have poured a lot of time and effort into those portfolios, so possible clients can make a serious and informed decision.

This group in general is very sensitive to be sucked in, done in, and screwed over. It's rampant in our profession these days and frankly everyone is just damn sick and tired of it.

I hope that sheds some light.

From: the cat
To: FAITHMARTIN


[clapping, clapping, clapping]

Bravo!

You beat me to it beautifully - what charm! The way you phrased that posting was very nicely done - a perfect balance of lights and darks with just the right white space for maneuvering

XXXX seems like a nice person, just a little in the dark - and since we are all here to learn, she has tripped into the right place.

From: GRAFIXCHICK
To: FAITHMARTIN


Your message was very well-phrased and kindly gave XXXX (the original poster of this thread) the benefit of the doubt. Kudos!

From: BOBROACH
To: FAITHMARTIN


Habib is very understanding in these matters -- and that's why he is so vocal -- he cares about the profession, and the attacks on the collective reputation that this sort of spec work inevitably supplies. And yes -- he is damn good.

I suspect he probably is spending more and more of his time trying to find clients who appreciate the real value his level of professionalism bring to his work -- that is, those who haven't already been swayed by the cut rates of the lesser professionals.

Our friend's reputation for fierceness is unfairly based on his initial responses to these kind of posts. He's been with us down that path so many times now -- but I have noticed that his responses of late have been much more articulate, precise and vividly phrased.

From: KIDAMADGE
To: XXXX


Hello XXXX,
I am not the infamous Habib, but am one of many graphic designers who have thought carefully about the issue of spec work and its ramifications to the business of graphic design.

The parameters of your contest flies in the face of a comment you made about your own business.

You stated - "It is very costly to take risks on projects, when you have your own overheads to consider. Sometimes you get stuck making a deposit on a project and then finding that the designer does not provide the quality that you were expecting, so this contest was the best way we could think of to replace the task of looking at thousands of portfolio's and resumes"

Have you considered the risk, the overhead, or the time of the designers you are soliciting, or have you only considered your own risk, overhead and time? It is unethical to do business in such a manner. Good businesspeople realize that a free market society works best when all the cogs in the wheel are oiled. What you are practicing is a sweatshop mentality: you are only looking out for yourself.

You may respond that a contest is voluntary and that you are making a request only.

Actually what you are doing is taking advantage of an over saturated industry in a soft market. There are a lot of designers, desktop publishers and students looking for work and recognition, many of whom are willing to take tremendous risks for the chance to catch a break.

Because of these market conditions, it is easy to justify that what you are doing is a service to those struggling most. However, it is my guess that if you were seeking laborers in a third world country, where unemployment is high, and offered them the chance to be paid a days wages if, after a days work, you found them to be satisfactory, that many would succumb to the "opportunity". And many would go home hungry while your fields would be tilled.

Speaking of wages, what you are offering as a "prize" is a disgrace. Those figures would be low even if you were guaranteeing payment.

For these reasons, I should tell you that those who will enter your contest are not qualified to provide the type of work that will catapult your business. They will be students who are still learning as well as others who are content to master software but not design theory.*

Bottom line, do not expect your identity to improve. Your calculated move will only bite you, when, in another year, you try to reinvent your identity again, because you were not willing to invest the money or time to hire a professional to create your image in the first place.

I hope you reconsider. My suggestion is to hire a designer if you like the work. Of course, expect to pay a fair price. I suspect you will be much happier in the end.

*A disclaimer to students: you may be very talented but until you overcome the temptation to work on spec, you will do a disservice to the business of graphic design.

From: XXXX
To: KIDAMADGE


Thanks for the info all. Sorry for the hassle. All your points have been taken!!

From: KIDAMADGE
To: XXXX


Thanks for being humble.

I hope you have a greater appreciation for the conflict that spec work has caused within the graphic design community.

We need to seek out opportunities to educate the business community. There is no other way to change the perception (except, of course, if all those who claim the title "graphic designer" would refuse to take in spec work).

I wish you and your business the best, provided you take to heart the ethical nature of which we've discussed.

From: BYTEHAUS <(- Habib has arrived!
To: BOBROACH

The reason I didn't butt in from the beginning was that last time I did, I was attacked by the very ones that I tried to protect from being taken advantage, newcomers and students.

I was told that I should let them make their own decisions and that we, pros shouldn't tell them how to conduct their business.

>Habib is very understanding in these matters-- and that's why he is so vocal-- he cares about the profession, and the attacks on the collective reputation that this sort of spec work inevitably supplies. And yes-- he is damn good.<

Thanks again. I do enjoy and I will continue to protect our eroding industry, as long as I have the support of my colleagues. You all did a pretty good job without my help, so I stayed away for a change.

I have a feeling that our friend who started this thread has been here before and got what he/she wanted. I also have a feeling by the quick retrieval that he/she is going to get (if he/she hasn't already) what he/she came after.

From: BYTEHAUS
To: XXXX


> - by the way, who the heck is Habib?!?! :-)<

Let me introduce myself, my name is Habib Bajrami. I’m a graphic designer. I’ve been doing graphic design since 1985 and started my own business (working from home) in 1997.

I specialize in branding and strategic design that caters to your bottom line, whatever that might be.

Honestly, I didn't even read your offer for spec but couldn't help noticing that you are in need of corporate identity. Every client, new or existing gets the same treatment from me. Minimum 40 hours of research and design time for corporate identity. My hourly rate is CDN $XX.00, almost nothing comparing to what agencies and high-end studios charge, but than I don't have a million dollar reception to pay for.

If my terms and fees appeal to you, give me a call. We'll draw up a contract, you'll pay the deposit and you will get an identity that you will be proud to show it around for many years to come. That's not a promise, that's a guarantee.

From: the cat
To: BYTEHAUS


Your comments always have people sitting up to attention. I for one have revised my opinion upwards after reading your thoughts on where we as designers fit into this world.

I wouldn't have your methods any other way - they are informative, articulate and passionate.

From: BOBROACH
To: the cat


>>I wouldn't have your methods any other way - they are informative, articulate and passionate<<

And of course... worth 'waiting for'.

From: the cat
To: BOBROACH


worth 'waiting for' . . . of course :-)

Habib mentioned that XXXX realized what the reception at this forum would be beforehand but was counting on results garnered.

I'm thinking that without the education of designers there is no education of clients so he/she did all a favour by keeping this subject coming up fresh.

Eventually I will manage replies with claws tucked safely in but for now I'll pass the pleasure to others while purrrring away in the anticipation of the pounce.

From: BYTEHAUS
To: the cat


>Your comments have people sitting up to attention. <

I must say I am sorry that I had to disappoint all of you for having my missiles tucked under ground this time. Honestly, I don't know how I managed to keep it calm.

>Habib mentioned that XXXX realized what the reception at this forum would be beforehand but was counting on results garnered.<

I think this was the same XXXX that got the cover for $XX awhile ago, but than I might be wrong. My apologies if I am wrong.

>I'm thinking that without the education of designers there is no education of clients so he/she did all a favour by keeping this subject coming up fresh.<

I just wish that there were more educated clients out there so we didn't have to do all that educating.

>Eventually I will manage replies with claws tucked safely in but for now I'll pass the pleasure to others while purrrring away in the anticipation of the pounce. <

Claws should be tucked away but always on alert. There are too many wolfs in sheep's skin.

From: AlinaDesign
To: BYTEHAUS


I just want you to know that I second all the great things that have been said about you, your forum comments and your design work. I have the highest respect for you.

Thanks so much for helping to make graphic design the profession it should be.

From: the cat
To: BYTEHAUS


<<I am sure that you already knew where our place is in the world>>

Nope. Before I came to this forum I was unaware of spec, contracts, proposals, client/designer relations, billing . . .

This forum has been my teacher - my projects the training ground. It's been a hard road so I wouldn't recommend it to anyone - get a degree is my advice.

I've done all the wrong things (working on spec, etc) now I'm 'almost' grown up thanks to the generous contributions you and others make on this forum.

And for all of you out there thinking of wasting time and brain cells with XXXXs or other 'contest/spec' jobs - taking Habib's (and others) advice has made a HUGE difference to my blood pressure. Avoiding being taken for a ride because of my (and my clients) ignorance keeps me out of trouble and saves on the crockery.

Retracting the claws

From: the cat
To: ALL


<<I also want to thank you for pointing out the way I posted the prize, I have amended this as well. I didn't mean to be misleading, so I changed it to the cash prizes only. >>>

Well gee, what a surprise - I submitted a yahoo address for the design competition to check out what they were up to and guess what? After going up to the competition site, they haven’t changed anything as promised.

. . . . My, my, they only have 14 suckers (hope for GD yet?)

So much for a ‘leader in web design and marketing for the touristic industry’.

. . . . . watch out for a wolf in sheeps clothing, the wise man said.

From: BYTEHAUS
To: the cat


>I've done all the wrong things (working on spec, etc) now I'm 'almost' grown up thanks to the generous contributions you and others make on this forum. I've done all the wrong things (working on spec, etc) now I'm 'almost' grown up thanks to the generous contributions you and others make on this forum. <

Why do you think I’m so against spec work? Been there-done that. I was fresh out of college and accepted my first freelance gig on spec. Spent about twenty hours breathing marker fumes and shaking rapidiograph pens, cutting rubilyth and burnishing transfer type, just to end up with that awful taste in my mouth after realizing that I had been taken for a ride.
>Retracting the claws <

Way too soon, as you have already realized.

From: BYTEHAUS
To: the cat


> . . . watch out for a wolf in sheeps clothing, the wise man said.<

Didn't I tell you that it is to soon to retract the claws. People who request spec work they already know that it is wrong and they do prey on the young and naive. There is nothing stopping them but a good kick in the butt. That is why I am so vocal (as some of you put it), I've seen them coming back over and over again, all they have to do is throw a different name and put on a different mask.

From: the cat
To: BYTEHAUS


<<Didn't I tell you that it is to soon to retract the claws>>

You sure did, and the next time one of these imposters come up here I'll assist in the butt kicking - we'll howl together.

Spitting mad I am

From: BYTEHAUS
To: the cat


>You sure did, and the next time one of these imposters come up here I'll assist in the butt kicking - we'll howl together. <

It's a deal.


As promised - links to articles and downloads on spec work and design competitions:


Jeff Fisher of award winning LogoMotives - “A true design competition should be for work a designer has already completed. ‘Competitions’ that are requests for a designer to produce and submit new work, with a dangling ‘carrot’ of possible payment or future projects down the road, are nothing more than stealth efforts to get design work for free - better known as speculative work.”

Neil Tortorella of Tororella Design and member of the Creative Latitude Management Team - ” Your organization’s logo is its face before the public. It is the visual expression of its culture, mission and scope. Creating a logo competition significantly reduces your chances of finding a suitable mark. It may be ‘pretty’, but without the research behind it, it's bound to be off the target. Plus, there are reproduction issues with a logo that must be taken into consideration.” - Excerpt from the Creative Latitude Logo Design Competition Protest Form. Download here.

Spec Work - Just Say No! - Judy Litt, forum moderator for about.com
“You need to make a decision on how to handle spec work before someone asks you to work for free. Some designers feel that the potential work is worth the risk, and that's fine as long as you understand what you're risking. Decide where you stand, and stick to your guns.” - Judy Litt

To Spec or Not to Spec - AIGA
“I will admit that we once did some speculative work for a potential client, so my high horse is more of a kneeling pony. I still regret doing it, and not because we didn't get the job (we didn't, but does anyone? Why does it always seem that the spec project goes to the firm that, at some point, had had a previous relationship with the client? Is it a reality check for the client? A chance to get free ideas?) but because I knew that, even when doing it, my charitable efforts should have been going toward helping out an organization that was truly in need. Or toward planting tomatoes. Or to doing anything other than reaffirming the misconception that graphic design is cheap, fast, and easy. Or maybe it is for other people, but I kind of doubt it.” - Alexander Isley

Competitions: Good Or Bad? - Icograda
“The past decade has seen a roaring development in both the (design) professional's and the industry's design application. Among the most important achievements is the increased understanding that design consists of a number of related elements: product, packaging, web, graphic, identity, interior design, architecture etc., that all go together and all relate to a company's identity, strategy and culture! But, is this understanding reflected out there in the real world? Profession-wise we argue the importance of the designer, being 'involved from the very beginning' (from before the project is defined) and that one must integrate design in company organizations and use it as a strategic, managerial tool. However, in the sphere of competitions, this goal is often forfeited because the initial competition concept isn't properly formulated. The result is frustration - not least among designers and architects.” - Thomas Dickson, Designer MDD, MAA

Why We Don’t Make Speculative Presentations
- Creative Business
“We know that a small business like ours (probably yours, too) has to watch costs carefully and can't afford to give much away. If we weren't careful, if we did give away our time, it is likely we wouldn't be here next time you called, which means you'd have to start all over again bringing someone else up to speed learning your business. We doubt you'd want that, and we know we wouldn't. We believe we should both be looking to build a long-term, mutually-productive an cost-efficient business relationship.”

Policy on General Project Competition Rules - RGD Ontario
“Evaluate several members or firms through referrals, interviews, professional standing and presentation of their past work. By reviewing the work of several designers, a client can match a designer's expertise to the requirements of a particular project, rather than having too many design firms competing on a project. While this process requires more investment of time for each candidate, it reduces the number of candidates that require client evaluation, and provides evaluation at a more thorough level.”

Getting Past Spec Pitches:
“Pitches tend to produce pretty pictures, but not great solutions. Creative pitches take a lot of the client’s time and attention that they could otherwise be using to make progress with a wisely chosen designer. Creative competitions prevent the intimate collaboration necessary for great solutions. Competition results that are less effective than work produced in a focused, collaborative professional relationship. In a pitch, the goal is to get the job. In a relationship, the goal is to help the client win. Competitions tend to produce lowest-common-denominator kinds of solutions.” - Promax

Phony speculative pitches: Ideas for free? Part-I - from an agency prospective.
“After a detailed pitch process involving four agencies, including the incumbent, we were told that we had failed to make it. The client had retained the incumbent, not that there was anything wrong with that. But two months later, the client broke a new campaign that was a significant departure from the earlier communication. Imagine our surprise when we saw the new strategy was exactly what we had recommended during our presentation. Even the creative execution bore a fair bit of resemblance to what we had presented.” - Undisclosed vice-president with a Top 10 agency.

Phony speculative pitches: Ideas for free? Part-II - from an agency prospective.
“Agencies will have to take a stand whereby they only present their credentials and case studies. After all, the client wants to know how good we are, and what better testimonial than our existing clients? Once all the agencies make their presentations, the client should pick two or three of them for a strategy/creative pitch. And this, the client should pay for.” - (J.S.) Mani, senior vice-president & general manager, Bates India.

Jeff Fishers favorite ‘GAG stamped’ design competitions:

The Summit Creative Awards A lot of times independent designers and smaller design firms get lost among the "big guys" in competitions. The Summit Awards were specifically created for the smaller companies and people on their own. They also have a sliding scale for entry fees based on billable fees. The only thing I don't like is they charge you for certificates if your designs win. You can get on their mailing list through their website.

LOGO 2003, Creative Annual and American Corporate Identity Awards These competitions are produced by David E. Carter. I like them because they have an entry fee cap, you receive a free copy of the book in which winning entries are published, they provide you with two complimentary award certificates for recognized projects and entries that don't win may appear in future books Carter produces. I've gotten a lot of work from potential clients having seen my work in his books.

PRINT Regional Design Annual
This is the annual competition of PRINT Magazine and it's always been one of my favorites because of the number of winning entries selected, the fact they are published in regional sections of the annual and the exposure gained from the annual. Again, they have a cap on entry fees, and provide you with a copy of the publication and complimentary award certificates. They also post all winning entries on their website.

Other Resources to Competitions:


Communication Arts
Creativity Annual
Digital Thread
How's competitions
I.D. magazine
Media Inspiration
Print's annual competitions
Work Book

The original about.com Graphic Design forum discussion can be found here.

2002, Catherine Wentworth

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